Tags: Roach | consumer | recovery | demand

Stephen Roach: American Consumers Are Not OK

By    |   Tuesday, 04 June 2013 07:58 AM

Don't count on the American consumer to drive this economic recovery, according to Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and former chairman for Morgan Stanley Asia.

Some say falling unemployment, rising home values and record stock prices mean consumers are back spending.

Nonsense, Roach writes in an article for Project Syndicate. The American consumer is definitely not OK.

Editor's Note: Startling Proof of the End of America’s Middle Class. Details in the Video

Consumer demand has been its weakest since World War II, rising at an average annual inflation-adjusted rate of just 0.9 percent since 2008, a "massive slowdown" from pre-crisis growth of 3.6 percent.

Household consumption represents 70 percent of the U.S. economy, so anemic consumption has cut 1.9 percentage points off gross domestic product growth, Roach says.

"Look no further for the cause of unacceptably high U.S. unemployment."

From mid-2009 through early 2013, consumption growth averaged just 2 percent over 15 quarters, which pales in comparison to previous recoveries.

"That key point," he asserts, "appears all but lost on the consumer-recovery crowd."

Standard economics holds that pent-up demand following a recession prompts consumer spending to spike. In recoveries since the 1950s, real consumption growth jumped 6.1 percent on average for five quarters, according to Roach.

This time, pent-up demand accounted for 3 percent annualized growth in the five quarters from early 2010 to early 2011.

"This is a stunning result," he states. "The worst consumer recession in modern history, featuring a record collapse in durable-goods expenditures in 2008-2009, should have triggered an outsize surge of pent-up demand. Yet it did anything but that."

The pre-crisis consumer-spending binge was built on asset and credit bubbles, Roach says.

"When those bubbles burst, consumers were left with a massive overhang of excess debt and subpar saving," he adds.

"In short, the American consumer’s nightmare is far from over. Spin and frothy markets aside, the healing has only just begun."

Consumers, struggling with high debts, underwater mortgages and inadequate savings, have an aversion to spending and are focusing more on reducing debts.

Adjusted for inflation, the Standard & Poor's 500 is still 20 percent below its January 2000 peak, and the Case-Shiller Housing Index is 28 percent below its 2006 peak.

"Wealth creation matters, but not until it recoups the wealth destruction that preceded it," Roach writes. "Sadly, most American households are still far from recovery on the asset side of their balance sheets."

The latest consumer spending report indicates that Roach may be correct.

Consumer spending fell $20.5 billion, or 0.2 percent, in April, according to the Commerce Department. In addition, personal income decreased $5.6 billion, or less than 0.1 percent, and disposable personal income decreased $16.1 billion, or 0.1 percent.

"Spending growth is going to be soft," Gus Faucher, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group, tells Bloomberg.

Editor's Note: Startling Proof of the End of America’s Middle Class. Details in the Video

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Economy
Don't count on the American consumer to drive this economic recovery, according to Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and former chairman for Morgan Stanley Asia.
Roach,consumer,recovery,demand
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2013-58-04
Tuesday, 04 June 2013 07:58 AM
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